We took two diehard 26″ mountain bike racers and switched their bikes for Orbea Alma 29ers. Each spent several months riding and racing everything from short track to 24 hour team relays on either the S10 carbon or H30 alloy model, then they swapped rides. After a solid season of racing the verdicts are in. But first, the techy stuff:
The 2011 Orbea Alma 29er was introduced first in carbon fiber form in the summer of 2010, replacing the original Alma 29er that debuted in 2006. It quickly became their best selling mountain bike in the U.S., so around January they started bringing in an alloy model in three trim levels to offer more competitive price points. Like their Orca road bike, the carbon model uses their direct cable routing with Gore Ride-On sealed cable liner snaking through molded cable guides. The frame uses a “4×4” layout that effectively pushes the seatstays past the seat tube, creating a bend in the top tube. The result are more horizontal seatstays that claim to give a smoother ride. For 2012, only minor cosmetic changes come to the frame’s hardware.
The alloy models do a pretty good job of mirroring the look of the carbon frames but get more traditional cable housing and stops. The alloy bike’s tech and frame details are covered here. More on each frame’s tech is covered within the full reviews here, too.
Here, in Part One, is our review of the 2011 Orbea Alma S10 Carbon…
When I found out I was going to be rocking a new Orbea Alma carbon 29er for the local summer mountain bike race series I was jacked. The design of the bike was super sexy and with the awesome graphics package it turned heads at every race. And it’s light!
The frame was very stiff and tracked well in turns due to the 4×4 triangle design from Orbea. 4X4 is a four-point rear triangle that allows a greater distance between the points where the seatstays and chainstays meet the front triangle, and a greater distance where the chainstays are joined to the seatstays, using a fourth angle. The greater the distance between these points, the greater the rigidity of the frame, and the frame’s comfort is improved despite the increased stiffness of the frame”. In short it allows the frame to be stiff under pedaling forces and flex slightly over the rough stuff to take the edge off the bumps.
Orbea also tunes each size frame using SSN Technology. This means that each bike size is designed individually, optimizing the frame structure according to the stiffness ratio and the cyclist’s anticipated average body mass so that each rider gets the same feel no matter what size frame they happen to ride.
The S10 also includes an awesome feature called the Downtube Patent. It not only increases the stiffness of the frame is also comes in handy as a built in mud guard.
Orbea carried over their new and improved XC race geometry from 2010 models. The combination of the shorter chain stays (439mm / 17.28″), increased clearance for wider tires and the refined head tube (optimized for 100mm forks) make the new bikes track better and handle faster than their predecessors.
The Alma S10 also incorporates direct cable routing into the design of the frame. This means less cable housing for more precise shifts and a cleaner overall look. In fact the S10 goes even further, it uses Gore fully sealed cables which provided flawless shifting and almost disappear into the frame from a distance. However, since they are not internal, the cables have reduced friction and maintenance. It also makes your local shop mechanic happy because he/she does not need to spend an hour or more just routing cables inside a frame.
The Shimano XTR parts along with a solid FOX F29 100mm fork (with tapered steerer and 15mm through axel) should provide many hours of enjoyment with very little service. I loved the fact that the bike came with a 100mm fork which really helped to take the edge off the bike being a hardtail.
The only negative of the XTR cranks is the reduced distance between the chainring and the frame. With this slight clearance issue, if you do get chain suck it will most likely get stuck behind the little ring on the 2X10 setup; resulting in the need to pull the cranks to free the chain. I spoke to Ronnie from Orbea about this and he told me the frames are within spec and since the XTR 2X10 cranks use the same spacing as the little ring and middle ring of a traditional 3X9 setup instead of splitting the difference in spacing this results in a very tight gap.
A quick visual check of another Carbon S10 (with FSA cranks) confirmed that the gap is larger on any crank other than XTR. The good news here is that since the frame is BB30 you have a wide range of cranks from various companies to keep all your front shifts clean and crisp.
Much to my personal delight Orbea spec’d a flat handle bar which helps keep the front end low for the out of the saddle efforts and climbs. In my opinion riding a 29er with a riser bar and 100mm fork makes the bike very top heavy and handle very slow. My only complaint with the parts mix on the stock bike would be the Mavic CrossMax wheelset. While it was very durable and provided no issues during the test I felt like the wheels held the bike back somewhat. After switching to a set of lighter weight wheels the true nature of the bike really began to shine.
The combination of the lighter wheels and the improved XC race geometry made this bike feel like it was ready for the local Wednesday Night World Championship race series. I didn’t want to see it go.
I was excited to receive the Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon one week before a solo six hour race I was doing in Virginia. Out of the box with a svelte looking carbon frame and a mix of XTR and other upper level cross country mountain bike components, I was not disappointed. Assembly was pretty smooth, but I did encounter a couple of little issues. First, the hydraulic cable for the back disc was about a foot too long. Second, the grommets to route the derailleur cables are made out of aluminum and turned out to be like knives against the Gore cable system I was running. This resulted in some shaving of the housings. Other than that, the bike seemed sensibly laid out.
After a couple of test rides on local trails that served as short, general tuning rides, I was on my way to the six hour race. The trails were dry and not too technically demanding. The bike and I gelled. Though still recognizably a hardtail, the Alma dealt a well tracking, predictable and highly controllable ride. The frame had plenty of stiffness when hammering yet exhibited respectable vibration damping. Having a 100mm of travel on the Fox fork instead of 80mm also paid dividends. I am a firm believer that 100mm is much more adequate on a hardtail than 80mm. Post six hours on the bike my body still felt intact and I was overall pleased with the Orbea.
It is sad, but my next couple of rides were not as fortunate, which included the 6 Hours of Warrior Creek. I kept having mechanical incidents, nothing necessarily pertaining to the frame, yet several rides got terminated prematurely. The narrow clearance between the chainstay and chainrings got me. Likely because of the abundant mud at this event, several times I experienced some chain suck that wedged the chain between the frame and the crankset. The small metal frame protector on the chainstay even fell victim and ripped off. Then, at the BURN 24 Hour Challenge, one of the XTR shifters was giving some stiction concerns and had to be serviced. (Editor’s note: the shift cable came off the spring-loaded wheel inside the shifter pod and got jammed. We opened up the shifter, reset it and it worked fine for a while. Evan actually tested this bike before Rob, and once Rob got it the shifter pod acted up again and was replaced by Shimano.)
As an entire package, aside from the mechanical mishaps I encountered, the Orbea Alma 29er S10 carbon is a well stocked and race ready machine. Throughout my time with the bike, which included a handful of cross country races, two six hour races, local trail riding and one team 24hr race, my opinion is that it’s a quality frame with an impressive 29er hardtail ride.
- Size Tested: Small
- Frame: Orbea Silver Level Carbon
- Cockpit: FSA bar, stem and post comes stock, our test bike had house brand parts.
- Fork: FOX 32 F29 QR15mm 100mm travel
- Group: Shimano XTR
- Wheels: Mavic Crossmax 29
- Tires: Continental Race King 2.2 (tested with tubes)
- MSRP: $5,499.00
- Weight as tested: 23lbs 6oz (without pedals)